The first half of 2023 is over, and its time to choose the new K-pop songs that have steadfastly remained on our playlist since the beginning of the year. There are no rules for this list, so it includes groups and solo artists, and perhaps most importantly, B-sides too. Several groups have hidden their best songs so far this year behind their title tracks, and it really shows on this list.
Here are the best K-pop songs released so far this year, in no particular order – except for the first song, which is the best so far. All the songs are also included in this YouTube Music playlist, if you’d like to listen after reading.
Back to the City — Kep1er
Love Struck is a fantastic mini-album and Giddy is a great title track, but Back to the City is the hidden gem here. The cute and fun concept really suits the group, and this high-energy song is incredibly catchy, with the chorus staying with you long after the song has finished. It also shows off Chaehyun, Mashiro, and Huening Bahiyyh’s voices in a way few Kep1er songs do, and the M2 music video shown here lets you see how much fun they have with the choreography. It’s going to take quite a lot for this not to be my favorite song of the year.
Vibe — Taeyang (featuring Jimin)
Unforgiven — Le Sserafim
The Wild West concept for Le Sserafim’s comeback was stunning and the theme continues in Unforgiven, right down to the song’s title and its use of elements from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly‘s famous theme. The song itself took a while to grow on me, and aspects still don’t quite work, but I’ve warmed to it a lot after repeated listens, and I love the way Le Sserafim continues to experiment and play with different concepts. The music video and key choreography are fantastic, emphasizing the group’s incredible attitude that has been present since Fearless.
The Feeling — Shinee
I am — Ive
Ive’s After Like was such a departure from Eleven and Love Dive that it had me somewhat confused about the group’s direction and how it was defining its unique sound, as did Kitsch, the first single release from the studio album I’ve Ive. However, I am is a return to form and a superb second release from the album.
The lyrics have a strong message about confidence, and the song showcases each member’s unique vocal talents in a way Kitsch did not. The music video here is full of Ive energy, but I also suggest watching the It’s Live version too.
Super — Seventeen
Pandora — Mave:
It’s far from the first of its kind, but Mave: is a virtual, AI-generated girl group that has come out with a cracking debut single. Mave:’s four members are Zena, Tyra, Marty, and Siu, and they represent South Korean tech company Kakao’s push into metaverse entertainment.
The avatars were created using Epic’s Metahuman technology and the Unreal Engine platform, and are beautifully animated, with their dance moves originally being motion-captured from human performers. There’s a fascinating look at the development of the members here, but listen to the song first, as I promise it’s way better than you expect.
Groovy — Cravity
Cotton Candy — Jinyoung
Cotton Candy, the first single from Got7 member Park Jinyoung’s debut solo album, doesn’t break the mold, do anything outrageously exciting, or have especially memorable choreography, but that’s OK. It’s pure, tuneful, light, and thoroughly enjoyable K-pop.
The title is appropriate, as this song is not about sustenance, it’s about fun, and listening to it will make you smile, just like seeing those pink, sticky strands of sugar twisted onto a stick at the fair. You’ll listen once, then you’ll listen again and again.
The Blue – Soopia
Unhappiness — Kwon so Jeong
Is this strictly K-pop? I don’t know, possibly not, but I’m including it anyway, as it appears not to have gained the attention I think it should. The song seems to be about an unwanted, one-sided relationship breakup, and the sadness and longing that comes with it.
It’s moving and ethereal, with an almost haunting emotion to Kwon so Jeong’s vocals and expressions. I discovered it by accident, but it has become a firm favorite this year.
Who’s Next – Lapillus
Journey — Woodz
Cho Seung-youn’s fifth mini-album, Ooli, is great all the way through, so it was a fairly hard decision which song to include here. Seung-youn’s shows his considerable vocal talent in this K-rock ballad with its soaring chorus, and it is far more upbeat than the bleak (but popular) Abyss. For a contrast, and a look at the artist’s versatility, listen to Busted from the same album.
Ay-Yo – NCT 127
SOS – Kang Daniel
There are times where a song is simply good, but a masterful music video elevates it far beyond that, and SOS is the perfect example. The incredible music video plays like a horror Western version of the action movie Mad Max as directed by John Woo, and the song fits the crazy visuals surprisingly well. It looks like it cost a fortune, is absolutely insane, and I’d actually watch a far longer version. Cool song, too.
Killer — Key
Nevertheless — Billie
Rightly, single release Eunoia should get you listening to Billie’s The Village of Perception: Chapter Three mini-album, but it’s Nevertheless (buried as the last track, if played in order) that stands out as the album’s best, and a favorite of the year.
The funky synth pop sound is almost overpowered by the group’s vocals until the bass drop near the midpoint of the song, right before everything gets turned up for the chorus.
Perfume — NCT Dojaejung
Fill it Up — Lucy
Like Billie’s Nevertheless, this is not the title track of the artist’s album. Fill it Up is found on Lucy’s Insert Coin album, headed up by Unbelievable with its game and anime-inspired music video. Fill it Up is totally different from that upbeat pop-rock song though, bringing in harder guitars, synths, and some distorted vocals for a far more K-pop boy band-style sound.
Rising – TripleS
Cupid — Fifty Fifty
So often, K-pop can feel overly produced and created in a cynical fashion as part of a massive business machine. Cupid is kind of that, but without the cynicism. Fifty Fifty is signed to an independent label, and the members’ individual talents are pushed, rather than them being slotted into a predetermined role.
To increase attention, Cupid has been released in Korean and English, and it’s a sweet, happy, classic K-pop song that you’ve probably already heard on social media. You should listen to it again.
Knock – Lee Chaeyeon
I Do — (G)I-DLE
I want to like (G)I-DLE more, but the five-member group makes it quite hard to do, whether it’s through misplaced profanity in their lyrics, or oddly cringe-inducing songs like Queencard. I Do is an irresistible creative departure for the group, and it’s a close second to Back to the City for this year’s best for me.
A romantic, heartfelt pop ballad sung in English, I Do gives each member a chance to shine (the group’s songs always need more Miyeon and Yuqi), and it’s accompanied by a fantastic music video that’s like a K-pop mash-up of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stranger Things.
As with every best-of collection, there are entries that were continuously swapped in and out of the top titles list, and it’s worth highlighting them.
Hold on Tight — Aespa
If you’ve seen Tetris on Apple TV+, you’ve heard this song already. If not, all you need to know to click Play on the video is that it does indeed include Aespa’s interpretation of the famous Tetris theme song.
ChrOme Arts – OnlyOneOf
Eve, Psyche, & The Bluebeard’s Wife — Le Sserafim
The second major release from Le Sserafim’s album Unforgiven, Eve, Psyche & The Bluebeard’s Wife is ultra cool, with a social media-friendly key dance move and fantastic choreography in the music video. But it’s a bit lacking in substance, and has already been played to death, seemingly given more promotion than Unforgiven itself.
Sugar Rush Ride — TXT
GGBB — Mamamoo+
GGBB is an almost perfect example of doo-wop K-pop fun, and I adore 90% of it. Unfortunately, it’s practically ruined by a disastrous out-of-place rap break partway through that sucks all of the retro energy out of it. If only they had stuck to the theme throughout, this would have been a faultless, nostalgia-filled comeback for the group.
That’s it for the first half of 2023, and if you want more K-pop song recommendations, we’ve got a list of the best K-pop songs ever right here.